Monarch Butterfly Tagging

Butterflies have been filling our nearby fields with bright colors. We’ve mostly been seeing painted ladies, however the occasional monarch has been spotted and I’m pretty sure I caught a glimpse of an eastern tiger swallowtail.

Last weekend we went out to Hitchcock Nature Center to learn about tagging monarchs. Much to our disappointment it was raining, which is needed in our area, but it meant actually tagging monarchs wasn’t going to happen since the monarchs stayed high up in the trees hidden from the rain.

This was our first visit to Hitchcock Nature Center and I fell in love immediately. It was beautiful and had amazing scenery. I’ll be learning more about their archery range and trails soon, so I’m sure we’ll be back. My sister also told me it’s a fantastic place to view bird migrations.

This visit was all about the monarchs though.

Monarch Tagging Class

I loved the monarch tagging class. Even though we had been out to Fontenelle Forest a week or so before to learn about Lepidoptera, we still learned a ton of new information specific to monarchs.

Male vs. Female

One new thing I learned is how to tell the difference between a male and female monarch. It has to do with the veins on their hindwings. If the black veins are thicker it means the butterfly is a female. If you see black veins that are thinner  and there are little thicker spots on the veins of the hindwing, you’re looking at a male monarch.

Male Monarch – Copyright 1996, Dale A. McClung.
Female Monarch – Copyright 1996, Dale A. McClung.

  Monarch Mimics

We were already familiar with the viceroy as a monarch mimic, but we also learned about the Queen butterfly. It also looks similar to the monarch.

As a caterpillar the monarch larvae eats the milkweed plant. Milkweed has cardenolides in them. Cardenolides are toxic steroids that can cause heart issues in vertebrates that consume them. Thanks to this toxin when the monarch emerges from the chrysalis it has the cardenolides in it’s body, making them poisonous to predators.

The viceroy isn’t poisonous to predators, but it does look similar to the monarch, which tricks predators into thinking it’s poisonous as well. This is quite the defense!

You can tell the difference between a viceroy and a monarch by looking at their hindwings. In the viceroy you’ll see a black line toward the bottom of the hindwing. When looking at both hind wings at the same time, it looks like a V. The monarch does not have this extra line on it’s hindwing. Also, the monarch is bigger than a viceroy, but if you’re like us, we don’t see either too often, especially not together, so it’s hard to make the size comparison.


This beauty is the viceroy. If you look at the hindwings you can see the extra line on the hind wings.

Test your butterfly identification skills with this fun monarch mimic quiz over on the National Wildlife Federation’s blog.

Tagging Monarchs

Monarch habitats are in decline, and this in turn means monarchs are in decline. We’ll be planting milkweed this fall to help provide even more habitat for them, as well as planting more pollinator flowers.

We wanted to learn more about tagging monarchs because this is how researchers are learning more about monarchs, and help them keep tabs on the population. I was interested to learn there is a lot of things we still don’t know about monarchs and by tagging them it helps researchers learn even more.

We learned how to hold the butterflies to make sure we don’t hurt them. The kids were shown how to do the scissor hold between two fingers, and the adults were shown how to gently hold them by the thorax.

To tag butterflies you place a specially made sticker on their hindwing. In the picture above, the tag would go on the middle part of the mitten shape, right under my daughter’s finger.  You have to make sure you put the tag in the right spot or it could affect the butterflies take off and flight balance.

Tags will have the organization’s name, a phone number, and a code. If you find a monarch that is already tagged you can call the number to report your location. It helps to track where the monarchs are going.

When you tag a monarch you’ll need to accurately record all of the information to report to the organization that is tracking the monarchs.

We attempted to go out with nets to possibly catch a monarch on a tree, but it was still raining by that point in the class and we only spotted one monarch flying about fifteen feet up around the trees.

Luckily the girls have had experience catching butterflies at the other butterfly class they attended at Fontenelle Forest.

Have you ever tagged monarchs? 


One Comment

  • Christian Steinsworth

    I had no idea about the male/female markings on monarchs! I love them so much. I planted a whole bunch of milkweed to help feed them in our area on their migrations! So cool that you learned to tag the monarchs and help with global research too. That’s amazing! The scissor hold is very interesting. I can see how that might help get less oils onto the monarch, and keep from destroying their wings. I sure hope we’re able to bring our monarch populations back a bit before they continue to reduce in population!
    Christian Steinsworth recently posted…Surprise and Delight Marketing: A Lesson From ChewyMy Profile

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

CommentLuv badge

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.